Is it Ever Safe to Leave a Dog in a Parked Car?

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"I just need to run in for a minute!" "He's just going to sleep the whole time anyway." "She'd rather wait in here than at home." You may have said any or all of these things about leaving your dog in your car, or have heard a fellow dog owner say it. We all know that we shouldn't leave our canine friends in a parked car, but is it always really that unsafe to do so, even just for a few minutes? Understanding just how quickly the inside of a car heats up can help you realize just how dangerous a parked car can be to an animal, even on a not-so-hot day.

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How hot is too hot?

The short answer to this question is "not as hot as you think."​ A good way to measure what your dog might be feeling while waiting in a parked car is to add 20 degrees Fahrenheit to the outside temperature. You won't want to stop there, however. The internal temperature of a parked car will continue to rise even when it's parked in a shady space, and can rise anywhere from about two and ten degrees about every 10 minutes. So, if it's a comfortable 70 degrees outside on the sidewalk, the inside of a car can easily reach 90 degrees in just 10 minutes and can heat up to 115 in an hour. Add this to the fact that dogs already have a higher body temperature than people, on average measuring around 102 degrees, and you'll have a very hot dog on your hands in little time at all.

Some people think that cracking a window may alleviate some of the heat from a hot car. While it can circulate the air a bit and may make things a bit more comfortable than a stifling vehicle with the windows up, it reportedly does very little to cool down the actual temperature inside the car, especially if the temperature outside is on the rise.

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The dangers of leaving a dog alone in a car

One of the most common ailments dogs face when left alone in a hot car is heatstroke, which can be fatal. Heatstroke kills hundreds of dogs a year and can be especially worrisome if you have a brachycephalic dog, or one with a "smush" face, like a pug or a bulldog. You'll notice if your dog is getting hot through excessive panting, drooling, discolored gums, or even seizing. Heatstroke can occur very quickly in dogs who are overheated as they cannot regulate their body temperature, and can experience organ failure and even death if left in the heat for too long.

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If you feel that your dog is suffering from heatstroke, medical attention will be needed immediately, and it is recommended that you seek the care of a veterinarian. In the meantime, applying cool, not cold, water to their head, belly, or feet can help lower temperatures. The dog should be placed in a space that is ventilated and sees continuous airflow, so keep your windows down and your AC on while en route to a medical facility.

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Heat safety tips for dogs

The safest way to ensure that your dog doesn't suffer from heatstroke on a hot day is obviously to leave her at home where it's, hopefully, not so stifling. If you must leave your dog in a car, only do so if you can limit the wait to a few minutes, for safety's sake. When you leave your dog, it's best to keep the car running (don't forget your spare key) with the air conditioning on to help keep her cool. Of course, this can also present dangers when leaving your dog unattended, and it is not recommended to leave a dog in a running car unattended when possible, but it can help keep them cool. Additionally, be sure to leave water in a bowl that's easy to access in case she becomes thirsty to prevent possible dehydration.

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In conclusion

Part of being a responsible pet owner is using your best judgment to decide whether a decision you make will keep a dog safe, or put him in danger. ​Leaving a dog in a parked car for any amount of time is a potentially dangerous and risky scenario for your dog.​ When possible, leave your dog at home, and if you must keep your dog in the car for a few minutes, keep the AC on blast and provide water for your dog to enjoy when needed.

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